Talking Smack with the Johnnies at Vicksburg

    Following General U.S. Grant's two failed assaults on the Vicksburg defenses (May 19th and 22nd), the two armies settled into a siege. Grant's forces had General John Pemberton's army completely hemmed in on the landside while the brown water Navy patrolled the Mississippi River and made cross-river traffic a perilous affair. Within the first week, the armies both settled into a routine  and as often happened in the Civil War, informal lines of communication developed between the opposing soldiers. 
    "The lines were so close together at Vicksburg that the pickets on both sides were necessarily posted so near to each other that by mutual agreement, they did not fire but merely watched one another during the day," remembered Captain Charles Dana Miller of the 76th Ohio. "A great deal of conversation was carried on and often they would meet on the middle ground and exchange papers and trade tobacco and coffee," he wrote.

    Early on the exchanges tended to fall into the category of "talking smack," either abusing or teasing their opponents. Sergeant Jacob L. Kline from Co. F of the 96th Ohio recalled the "compliments" two opposing sharpshooters exchanged. Union soldiers are indicated as (U) and Confederates as (C):
    U: How do you like crackers?
    C: I don't know as we have none. Can you give us one?
    U: [Union soldier fires off his gun at him.] Yes, how do you like it?
    C: Don't throw it so hard next time.
    Alcanaan O. Grigsby of the 14th Illinois recalled this tense exchange punctuated by gunfire as the two combatants went at it:
    C: Hallo Yank, what are you digging there for?
    U: We are on our way to Vicksburg.
    C: Then why don't you storm our works?
    U: Because we never charge on prisoners. Now tell us how you like your new general?
    C: What General do you mean?
    U: General Starvation of course!
    C: Oh to hell with you! [Gunfire blazes away from dozens of muskets.]
    U: Better not waste your ammunition! You couldn't hit a house!

Grigsby reported that the two men continued their verbal riposte "embellishing their remarks with a liberal supply of expletives from the most improved vocabulary of profanity. And thus they kept it up at intervals day and night, all along the line," he wrote.

    As time passed, the men started to develop friendships with their opposite numbers and in at least one case, discovered an old neighbor on the opposing side as related by First Lieutenant Jacob Tussing of the 57th Ohio. Tussing recorded the following exchange between two Missourians, the Federal serving in the 8th Missouri of Tussing's brigade and the Confederate in Colonel Amos Riley's 1st Missouri Infantry of Bowen's Division:
    U: Ho John, how do you like Grant's bullpen?
    C: Pretty well and if you don't look out, we will have the corners soon. Ho Dick, what are you going to do with us?
    U: Well, we are going to put you up on that boat that has the calliope on it and send you up North. Ho Johnny, now don't you shoot.
    C: I won't. Ho Dick, come out without your arms and meet me at the picket post.
    U: No I can't, it is against our rules. [Just then some of our Union troops threw some bombs among the Confederates.] Lie down Johnny, I couldn't help that.
    C: Oh yes, I have gotten used to them. 
    U: Well, I've been fighting them for two years and haven't got used to them yet. Ho Johnny, let me tell you something. Do you know why I did not like your army?
    C: No.
    U: Well it because you run so much that I never could keep up.
    C: Ho Dick, what battery is that over there?
    U: Oh that battery is all right.
    C: Where is old Frantz Blair and his Dutch?
    U: Well, he's alright, he is back here watching you. 
    C: Ho Dick, where is General Johnston?
    U: Oh, he is back out of hearing. You need not wait for him to come. If you do, you will all starve to death. He could not hurt us much if he had 150,000 troops in the rear of us.
    C: Ho Dick, have you got any whiskey?
    U: Oh yes, plenty of it. We live well over here. Have plenty of bakeries and nice bread and butter. I am going to have a big loaf made tomorrow with 'come Pemberton come' on it and I will put it up on a stick in front of here.
    C: If you do, I'll charge on it and take it.
    U: Well if you do, you will go back without the bread.

    Private John Lawton of Battery C, 1st Missouri Light Artillery went forward to the rifle pits of the 116th Illinois and had the following exchange with a Confederate picket only 50 yards off:
    U: Hallo I say Rebs.
    C: Hallo yourself.
    U: How do you make it over there?
    C: Oh bully, how do you get along?
    U: Fine, very fine. Where have you been all forenoon? [The Federals had shelled the line heavily all morning.]
    C: We crawled into our holes.
    U: And pulled the holes in after you did you not, to keep our shells out?
    C: Some of us did. I say Yank, your artillery men were all drunk this morning were they not?
    U: No doubt some of them were for we have plenty of whiskey. Do you got any?
    C: No, that is played out long ago. If you will save some of your drams tomorrow and fetch them to the rifle pits, I will come halfway and give you $20 in greenbacks for it.
    U: No doubt you would, but you know your supplies are cut off and I dare not do it.
    C: Have you got Port Hudson yet?
    U: Yes, we have got it just as we have you. We are guarding the prisoners and they are eating their own rations.
    C: I say when you take us prisoners we want western men to guard us.
    U: You think you'll be taken, then?
    C: I suppose you think so.
    U: How do you like the rations you got this morning?
    C: You didn't kill anybody but a Jew and we are glad of that. Oh yes, you killed a mule, too.
    U: Did you fetch your ambulances out to take the mule and the Jew to the hospital?
    C: You will wake up some fine morning and find Joe Johnson in your rear.
    U: We are as anxious to see Joe Johnston as you are; we are prepared for him.

    Confederate hopes of being relieved by either Joe Johnston's army in Mississippi or other forces pushing east from Arkansas persisted through the final days of the siege. As news in Vicksburg was scarce, all sorts of wild stories generated by the "grapevine telegraph" were in circulation and were passed between the opposing troops. Private Willis Thompson of the 15th Illinois Infantry recalled that "they imagined that General Price holds Helena and has cut off our supplies and also that young McCulloch has Milliken's Bend. They have for the past few days been quite curious to know when we got a mail last, how our hardtack holds out, whether General Starvation did not command in our camp, too."
    C: Where is General Rosecrans?
    U: Where is General Johnston?

  As the siege progressed and hardships worsened for the besieged Confederates, morale within the garrison fell and General Pemberton came under increasing criticism by his soldiers. Some even started referring to Pemberton as General Starvation. As a result of the poor morale, deserters started to make their way into Federal lines at night, but this was always a perilous undertaking as reported by Chaplain Thomas M. Stevenson of the 78th Ohio:
    U: How is General Pemberton's health?
    C: He's doing well, but he has a new name. Now we call him General Starvation. Why do you keep such a strong line of sharpshooters?
    U: To keep you in there.
    C: You need not do that. General Starvation keeps a much stronger one for the same purpose.
    U: Why don't you desert and come over?
    C: I would but a dozen muskets will blaze away at me if I leave my post.

Stewart Bennett and Barbara Tillery, editors. The Struggle of the Life of the Republic: A Civil War Narrative by Brevet Major Charles Dana Miller, 76th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Kent: Kent State University Press, 2004, pg. 103
Letter from Sergeant Jacob L. Kline, Co. F, 96th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Delaware Gazette (Ohio), June 26, 1863, pg. 2
Letter from Private Alcanaan O. Grigsby, Co. E, 14th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, Bloomington Pantagraph (Illinois), July 3, 1863, pg. 1
Letter from Chaplain Thomas M. Stevenson, 78th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Morgan County Herald (Ohio), July 1, 1863, pg. 1
Letter from First Lieutenant Jacob R. Tussing, Co. G, 57th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Hancock Jeffersonian (Ohio), July 3, 1863, pg. 1
Letter from Private John Lawton, Battery C., 1st Missouri Light Artillery, Nashville Journal (Illinois), July 10, 1863, pg. 2
Letter from Private Willis S. Thompson, Co. K, 15th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, Woodstock Sentinel (Illinois), July 8, 1863, pg. 4


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